Such a pity: the margaritas are cold, the ocean is warm, and thousands of athletes will eschew it in lieu of energy drink and gel to take part in the fourth running of Ironman Cozumel in Mexico. No matter; the cold drinks and fresh tacos pescados (fish tacos) will be waiting afterward.

The fourth running of this increasingly popular destination event on the resort island just off Cancun sees pro wave goes off Sunday at 6:40 a.m., with 2,700 age-group athletes (including a sizeable 525 from Mexico) slated to start in the Caribbean Sea at 7 a.m.

Returning to defend his title of a year ago, Austin’s Michael Lovato has endeared himself with the locals with his fluent Spanish. And that endearment doesn’t go unnoticed by the Texan.

Austinite Michael Lovato has endeared the local media in Cozumel with his fluent Spanish.

“It’s a special race for me and has actually has become one of my favorite races,” Lovato said. “Kona was an afterthought after bombing out at (Ironman) New York, and I almost didn’t do Kona because I really wanted to be ready here, but Amanda and I love it here; the community is so supportive. It helps that I’ve been here a couple times, but they do this for everyone; they’re such a welcoming people, and I love that.”

Lovato faces a deep field that includes several threats for the win, including Luxembourg’s Dirk Bockel and South Africa’s James Cunnama of TeamTBB who won Challenge Roth this summer, and Australian threat Luke McKenzie. Also returning to the race was last year’s runner-up Patrick Evoe, Zach Ruble (4th), France’s Trevor Delsaut of TeamTBB (6th) and Brandon Marsh (7th).

And with so many big-name males in ITU making the segue from short-course to long-course (see Simon Whitfield, Bevan Docherty), add another big name to the list: Spain’s Ivan Raña. Raña won the ITU world title across the water in Cancun in 2002. He’ll also be joined by Brazilian ITU pro Mauro Cavanha in making a debut at the Ironman distance.

The women’s field has a home “favorite” in Yvonne Van Vlerken. The diminutive Dutch woman won the race in 2009 and says. “I feel very at home here. I did a training camp for four and a half weeks last year and feel like I know every little corner of this island.

And she says her small frame is perfect for punching a hole through the wind in Cozumel on the bike—but the swim here is to her biggest benefit. “This course is 100 percent perfect for me. The longest part of this course has the current swim at my back—that’s why I’ve done 53 minutes without a wetsuit here!” she said with a laugh. “The bike course really suits me. It’s flat, but it’s very, very windy and the road surface is not so smooth. So it’s perfect for me.”

Another small profile that hope to do some damage is American Mary Beth Ellis. Fresh off an impressive fifth-place finish at the Hawaii Ironman, Kona’s top American finisher and TeamTBB member comes to Cozumel as her team today announced a partnership with the Mexican state of Quintana Roo that will see the squad using the heat, humidity and wind of the Cozumel area as a North American training base—particularly in the lead-up to the Hawaii Ironman next fall.

Fresh after taking fifth in Kona, Ellis says Ironman Cozumel is a jumping off point for TeamTBB’s recent training base partnership with Cozumel and the state of Quintana Roo.

“I took some down time after Kona and feel good, but I’m sure there’s a bit of soreness and tiredness that will only come out once I’m on the race course,” Ellis said. “but really, for us, Cozumel is the starting point for Kona 2013.”

Van Vlerken and Ellis will contend with last year’s Ironman Cozumel runner-up Sonja Tajsish, as well as Great Britain’s Jodie Swallow, Texan Amy Marsh, Belgian Sophie DeGroot, and rising rookie pro Beth Walsh from Encinitas, Calif.

The weather is a big question mark; historically, the event delivers as is regionally expected: hot, humid and windy. And while the winds (a battering headwind and alternately a welcome tailwind on each of the three laps of the bike) have been delivering, clouds have kept air quite temperate, with a high of 75 degrees, with the breezes adding a rare chill to the air. That may play well to some fast times, particularly on the run.

Check in with lavamagazine.com for a detailed post-race report and image gallery.